| Oct 03, 2018

The Ontario government has given a bit more time for the incoming municipal councils to think about whether they will permit cannabis retailers to set up shop within their jurisdiction. At first, they were faced with a decision in December, at their first or second meeting, but that has been pushed back to January.

Still, it has given candidates for council a different kind of question to answer than they are normally used to during the municipal election campaign. It is simple on the surface; do you think your township should allow cannabis to be sold within its borders? But since it is a yes or no question, it tends to pack an extra punch. When asked at all candidates meetings, it tends to elicit a response that is perhaps what you would expect from people who have lived all of their lives in a world where marijuana is forbidden, an illicit drug. No one wants to say, “I have been smoking pot for 40 years, why shouldn’t it be sold in our town?”. That means they are admitting they have been a lawbreaker for 40 years at the same time as they are asking for people to vote for them. Some want to say, “I’ve never tried it, and I don’t plan to, but ...” and some talk about making sure it is not being sold near schools. Some even refuse to be pinned down, using the “I’d like to hear what the people think” or “maybe we should hold a referendum” cop out lines.

What those asking and answering the question about cannabis sales really need to do is cast their mind forward a couple of weeks. Once cannabis is legal on October 17, it will join millions of legal products that may or may not be good for us, such as candy bars and sugary drinks, gasoline and potato chips, and beer and wine and whiskey.

It will be subject to restrictions, although not likely as onerous as those tobacco is subject to, and will only be sold in dedicated stores, for now.

At one time local municipalities, heavily influenced by religious based temperance movements, maintained restrictions over the sale of alcohol. But as municipalities have amalgamated and expanded, the logic behind restricting the sale of alcohol has faded. All it meant was an inconvenience for local residents and a disadvantage for local business, neither of which are desired by municipal councils.

The main reason that the cannabis prohibition has been lifted in Canada after 80 years is that it had become hopelessly outdated. The percentage of the population who use cannabis is too large, and it is untenable for (at least) 15% of the population to be criminals just because they use a common drug, be it for medical or recreational reasons or for a combination of the two.

Municipalities that vote to prohibit the sale of cannabis in January will be dooming theirs and future councils to revisit these issues over and over again, until the sale is finally legalised. Municipalities that take the plunge and permit retailers to set up in their jurisdiction, with all the provincially mandated restrictions that are already in place, will likely never have to deal with the matter again.

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